This post focuses on 25 things that a producer should probably have with them at any session.
One of the best things to be when working as a producer is prepared. Not only does it feel awesome to have exactly what the situation calls for, but it helps the session run smoothly. I’m the sort of guy to carry way too much stuff with me at any given moment, but this list is a list of things that have saved my butt on several occasions.
25 Producer Essential Items
This one should be obvious but for many folks it isn’t. If you or anyone else isn’t in tune, things won’t sound as they should and the session will grind to a halt. I recommend the Boss TU-12. The design is as old as I am but it’s easy to read, accurate, and everyone has used one at one point so you won’t have to teach the musicians how to use it.
While not as indespenable as the tuner, a metronome is really useful for quickly determining the tempo of things and for quickly rehearsing parts. One of the nicer digital ones with multiple rhythm patterns is especially handy for getting a feel for the rhythm. My band instructor in junior high traumatized us with the Boss Dr. Beat, but it’s a nice one. I use the Korg MA30.
You’d be surprised how many guitarists and bassists will forget to bring picks (or maybe you wouldn’t be). They’re light and cheap – might as well have a small variety of thicknesses.
4. Spare strings
Again, the musicians should technically have these for themselves, but, especially if you are one of the musicians, they can really save the day. I recommend 10 gauge electric nickel strings and 12 gauge acoustic phosphor bronze strings.
5. Hard drive or a large flash drive
It’s been said that digital information doesn’t really exist until it’s in two places. While this isn’t really true, the point is that you never know when a drive is going to go or a building is going to be smashed by Godzilla, destroying irreplaceable creative work. Every night just drag your session to your own drive before you leave… and take it with you. I recommend Western Digital external drives (one with both USB and Firewire, especially) or, at the least, a 4GB or larger USB flash drive. It’s nice to have a large drive (250GB or so) so you can save each session in its own folder, rather than overwrite it each night – just in case you bungled something that day.
Yeah, a paper notebook for writing things down and brainstorming.
7. Pens and pencil
For writing. Pencils come in handy for temporarily marking various things.
Studios should have their own but it’s always nice to have extras. 10 feet usually is a good compromise betwen bulk and functionality. Expensive (read: Monster) USB and Firewire cables may last longer under abuse but they definitely don’t sound any better. I don’t think they’re worth the money.
9. USB Hub
This is definitely optional but, especially when working with minimalist Apple computers and dongles hanging out all over, those USB ports can get filled really fast. Something small and portable works – like a 4 port.
10. Business cards
Obvious but good to have on the check-off list.
11. Maglight or bright keychain light
Peeking behind consoles and computers can be dark. Save the day with a little flashlight.
I don’t know any producers who don’t have laptops these days. It’s great to be able to have an extra computer to sift through your favorite samples, do some extra editing, etc.
If you have any must-have plugins or software that you need to run that require a dongle, make sure to have it on you!
14. Reference Headphones
You never know what kind of cans a studio is going to have. Bring something you know for reference. It’s nice to have the same headphones throughout the project so you can match sounds easier. I use both the Sony MDR-7506, (which are compact, easy to find, sound pretty good, and have little leakage) and the Etymotic ER-4 in-ear phones (very compact, very accurate, isolating, and pretty expensive).
I bring a couple of each. The only difference between the ‘data’ and ‘audio’ CD-Rs is that you’re paying the DMCA tax for the audio ones and they’re striped to work in old-school consumer audio CD writers.
Tuners, guitar pedals, and all sorts of things run on batteries. I bring a couple AAs and a 9V. AAAs may be useful too. Stick with alkaline here.
There are lots of headphones that are 1/8″ (like my Sonys) but you’ll likely only find 1/4″ in pro studio gear. It can also be handy to interface consumer gear (like an iPod) in a bind.
18. Ethernet cable
Cat5e only. This can come in handy if you have to, say, transfer files really quickly or get on the Internet without the hassle of wifi. 6 feet is usually good enough.
19. Audio Interface
Having your own audio interface can be a big help when making production choices (such as doing some editing in another room or for capturing extra tracks somewhere away from the control room). I use an RME Fireface 400, which has excellent mic pres, A/D converters, and lots of I/O options while being small.
20. MIDI Cables
Again – the studio should have some but sometimes they’re hard to find when you really need them. I drag around a couple of 10 footers.
21. The locations of the nearest coffee and convenience stores
Oh, you laugh now… just search on Google Maps before-hand.
22. TRS & XLR Turnarounds
A turnaround is an adapter with the same sex on both sides. I would say a 1/4″ female TRS and a male XLR. The TRS turnaround can even create a headphone extension cable out of a standard TRS cable…
23. Music notation paper
Pretty important if you’ll be working with a brass section or a string section.
24. Decibel Meter
This is optional, but it can be really good for setting volume levels for accurate monitoring. Some rooms are tuned to be most accurate at certain volumes. It will also help you prevent fatigue if you’re aware of your levels.
I would recommend having two kinds: Hi-fi Hearos, which reduce the sound level (14db, I think) without muffling things too much, and oh-my-god-that’s-loud disposable earplugs (like 35db). They’re great if you have to wander into a room with a live amp or set up right next to flailing a drummer.
Most of this stuff isn’t that bulky. I carry it all around in my M-Audio backpack, which can handle 90% of this stuff. It’s an amazing bag – extremely durable and well conceived.